Jefferson Davis and Edward Snowden

Davis, the only president of the Confederate States of America, may be the only traitor with his own state holiday. What does that have to do with Edward Snowden?

Throughout the South there are celebrations of Davis's birthday — June 3, 1808 — and he is memorialized in Georgia, Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Alabama even has a state holiday for Davis's birthday, the first Monday in June. Is Edward Snowden next? After all, while many, perhaps most, would call Davis a traitor, there are clearly Americans who believe otherwise.

What is a hero? Snowden made a deep personal sacrifice by collecting the evidence of the NSA's trampling of the Constitution and the rights of all Americans. By giving the documents to independent journalists he's honored the role of a free press, much as Daniel Ellsberg did by giving the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.

Then, many considered Ellsberg a traitor for sharing the government's own record of lies and duplicity on the Vietnam war. But the reason we have a free press is to expose government failings - however much discomfort it may cause our representatives.

The thin line between governing and controlling. We invest government with enormous powers over us as citizens. Inevitably that power is abused.

It is simple economics: the power and wealth easily won from oppressing one's own people is far greater than the much riskier gains from invading a neighbor. That calculus has ensnared many leaders and their unhappy people.

What Snowden exposed is an out-of-control national security apparatus that is willing to lie and smear while hiding behind stringent secrecy laws. When the head of the NSA Director of National Intelligence, Admiral James Clapper, lied to Congress – our representatives, his paymaster – about the extent of NSA surveillance he crossed a bright line. But not the only one the NSA has crossed and surely not the last.

History of lies. Sadly, the government and has often found it expedient to lie to Americans. Some samples:

  • Bush's rationale for the Iraq war. 
  • Reagan negotiating with terrorists. 
  • Nixon's secret plan to end the Vietnam war. 
  • Johnson's Gulf of Tonkin resolution that legalized the Vietnam War.

The human propensity to deceive is why the founding fathers insisted on a free press.

Americans are practical people. We understand that we don't need to know everything the government does in our name. We expect the separation of powers and our free press to keep things under reasonable control.

But what Edward Snowden showed us is an intelligence community that is out of control. Sweeping up petabytes of data on Americans, compromising security protocols, tampering with high-tech exports, spying on our closest allies, prepared to smear and harass critics, cravenly concealing their malfeasance behind draconian laws.

Snowden, almost single-handedly, has made Americans debate what we mean by freedom in the digital age. He has exposed abuses that will cost American companies tens of billions in lost sales and how many lost American jobs.

America was founded by traitors - to the British crown - who saw a distant king and parliament that cared little for our opinions. So they did something about it: a revolution.

When Jefferson Davis assumed the presidency of the CSA - a nation founded on the unholy principle that all men are NOT created equal - he committed treason. And yet he was allowed to live out his life in freedom and is honored by some to this day.

Surely Snowden's transgressions are less than that of Davis, who led one side of America's bloodiest war. While Davis tried to sunder America, Snowden is asking all of us to take it back.

Back from the military-industrial-surveillance complex. Back from the faceless bureaucrats and analysts whose access to unlimited data, storage and computes is a loaded gun pointed at the heart of American freedom. For any power that can be abused, will be abused. Count on it.

Comments welcome, of course. What do you think of Snowden, hero or villain?

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